Copay Cards: Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

Prescription Copay Cards continues to be a hot topic (see list of articles at the end here), but I see a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) versus a lot of facts. At the end of the day, there are certainly a few stories about cases where costs have jumped up due to copay cards overcoming formulary positioning.

But, no one knows the total market impact. I’ve spoken with six different organizations that would be well positioned to know, but they don’t. It’s not tracked or easily available in the data. Reasonable estimates from Dr. Adam Fein over at DrugChannels put the market at about 100-125M Rxs which is about 3% of the total Rx market (assuming 3.3B Rxs/year) or 12% of the total brand market (assuming 75% GFR). [I validated those numbers with a specialty pharmacy that shared that they were seeing 13% of their claims come in with a copay card.] Certainly, the market has grown as IMS estimated in one recent article.

The question of course is whether these are good or bad and whether their use is malicious or not. My conclusions are based on talking with about 30 people in preparation for my AIS webinar on this topic today. What I concluded was:

  1. There is a win-win. Copay cards can improve adherence. Adherence can reduce total healthcare costs. There is a point at which the increased cost curve crosses the savings curve and is something to be considered.
  2. Today’s approach is a shotgun approach by which cards are available online (e.g., and by physicians. They’re not focused on patients with need or on patients with adherence barriers. They play into the misperception that cost is the primary barrier to adherence WHICH IT IS NOT. [Cost is an issue in <20% of the cases according to multiple barrier surveys.]
  3. Copay cards are really a CRM Trojan Horse for pharma to build a 1:1 patient relationship (or should be if they’re not thinking that way). Due to HIPAA, pharma doesn’t typically know who uses their drugs. If I were a brand manager, I would gladly trade some copay relief in return for increased adherence and the contact information for my patients.

I think there are several ways that industry (especially pharmacies) should collaborate with pharma on how to leverage these copay cards at the POS with patients [call me to discuss]. But, to do that, I think the broader industry is going to require some type of rules which I am sharing shortly as a proposed “pledge”.


The other thing longer-term to watch is will this further change the PBM-Pharma relationship.  I think yes.  If the PBMs push for legislation on this marketing tactic or the manufacturers figure out that this is a better use of their spend than rebates, this will change the relationship. 

Additional Reading:

  1. Prescription Drug Coupons Bad for Patients
  2. Drug Firms Providing Kickbacks For Copays and Coinsurance
  3. DBN article – As Competitors Encroach, Pfizer Seizes A Few More Glory Days With Lipitor Promo
  4. Adam Fein blog posts
  5. Copayment Subsidies
  6. Coupons For Patients, But Higher Bills For Insurers

2 Responses to “Copay Cards: Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater”

  1. George, I am so sorry to have missed the Webinar but will look forward to hearing the audio. As you suggest here, there CAN be a Win-Win for the patient, the Payer and the Pharma company if copay cards can be used to extend patient choice and options without negatively impacting the payer’s burden. The fact is that the relationship between a patient and a pharmaceutical manufacturer is REALLY intimate (we put these chemicals INSIDE our bodies)…but neither party really knows or trusts the other. By changing the dynamic of how pharma and payers interact, permitting the coupons to be used to reduce the patient out of pocket cost and creating benefits that actually anticipate the use of coupons, all parties can have their needs satisfied.

  2. Just finished the webinar. Lots of good discussion and questions (35 minutes of Q&A). I’d encourage you to go and get the entire audio if interested in the topic.

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